With less then 20 games left in 2010-2011, the regular season is coming to a sad but inevitable close. No team has been completed eliminated from playoff contention yet; however, there are some teams that are clearly ahead of the rest. With that, I have put together a brief overview of the season thus far.
The Philadelphia Flyers have looked like a dominant team since early on in the season. Despite preseason questions about their goaltending, rookie Sergi Bobrovsky and long time veteran Brian Boucher have done a good enough job to keep them with a strong lead in the Eastern Conference.
The Vancouver Canucks are year after year such a superb team in the regular season and always have high hopes when entering the playoffs. Nothing has changed this year, for they have the NHLs top ranked offense and defense. With Roberto Luongo between the bars, and the Sedin twins carrying their highly potent offensive attack (Henrik 1st in assists, 4th in points Daniel 1st in points and 3rd in goals), they will be hard to stop come playoff time.
Detroit Redwings...thats a name you will always hear when talking about the NHL, and this year is no exception. While Jimmy Howard is having the best year of his career and is the league leader with 30 wins this season, they are primed to make another deep run into the playoffs. Does Datsyuk ever get older?
For the past four seasons San Jose has been the best of the west, and may still be the number one seed in the NHL. They are coming off of their 6th straight victory and are only 9 points behind the 'Nucks. Although given their recent playoff history, I would prefer to see them not have the top seed because that seems to spell bad news for the Sharks. Count on seeing them in the Western Conference Finals
Boston still has a lot of angry fans after blowing the 3-0 lead against the Flyers last year which would have put them in a spot to win their first Stanly Cup since the 71-72 season. Tim Thomas is once again touting the top save percentage in the league with startling .939! Having the eastern conference's top goaltender and defense is priming them for a deep trip into the playoffs.
The Tampa Bay lightning are one of the surprise teams this year, are having an amazing season. Many players are still under achieving, including Steven Stamkos. Despite cooling off from his early season hot streak he still leads the league with 41 goals this year. He needs just 11 more to set a new career high.
Pittsburgh and Washington both have the potential to be holding the Stanly Cup trophy this at the end of season, however both have been down lately. Pittsburgh suffered a devastating injury to Evgeni Malkin and Sid "The Kid" Crosby is still out as well. Along with a few other key forwards, they are riddled with injuries. New comers Alex Kovalev and Matt Niskanen are solid additions to the team, but will they be enough to carry them through the East? Washington is not quite in the same situation, but their defense has been struggling and cannot quite seem to click on offence. Last year Washington finished with a GD of +48 and now with less then 20 games remaining they are sitting on a +7. Both teams need a turn around in order to have a chance come Playoff time.
Over in the west Phoenix, Calgary, Los Angeles, Dallas and Minnesota are all deserving credit for their great play this season. This is one of the tightest races in NHL history, and currently 12 teams are fighting for the final 5 spots. The farthest of which is only 9 points behind!
Seeds 5-8 in the Eastern Conference consist of Montreal, NYR, and Carolina. All three of these teams are heading in the wrong direction. Montreal has posted a sub .500 record after the All-star break, while Carolina (3-5-3 in their last 10) and NYR(4-6) are both slumping. Carolina lost three straight against the rising New Jersey Devils, who have gained a point in all but one game in February, and have compromised their hold on the 8th and final spot in the East, and now only lead the Buffalo Sabres by only 2. Toronto, Florida, Atlanta, and New Jersey are all within 10 points of Carolina. With the season winding down, the bottom of the east is still wide open.
Colorado Avalanche, Ottawa Senators, NY Islanders, Edmonton Oilers
Sorry guys, but your season may very well be all but over in the next few days unless a boat load of wins are strung together. The Avs has lost 13 of their last 14 games, and are now second to last in the very tough West with Edmonton rounding out the bottom. On the opposite side, NYI have played extremely well since the all-star break, but have been overshadowed by the red hot Devils. They only sit 14 points out of the final playoff spot, but baring a huge surge, their post season hopes are slim. Ottawa has the worst goal differential in the league -57 and should focus on rebuilding and hopefully having a successful 2011-2012 campaign.
NHL playoff predictions coming in March, stay tuned!